When Right Does Wrong

Two conservative environmental groups tied to lobbyist Jack Abramoff possibly broke tax laws. By Sarah Parsons

The Democratic minority of the Senate Finance Committee recently released a 608-page report detailing former lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s scandalous dealings with five conservative non-profit groups. The report asserts that the groups acted as an extension of Abramoff’s business, accepting donations from Abramoff’s clients in return for lobbying and public relations efforts. Lobbying for a fee is a clear violation of the non-profits’ tax-exempt status. Though Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion, the non-profits’ involvement is a bit murky and is still under investigation. Ultimately, the groups may have put their tax-exempt status at risk by helping Abramoff.

Two of the five groups, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA) and the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) focus on environmental issues. Plenty investigated these groups and their involvement with Abramoff.

Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy

Background and Mission: Founded in 1997, this conservative, D.C.-based group aims “to foster environmental protection by promoting fair, community-based solutions to environmental challenges, highlighting Republican environmental accomplishments, and building on our Republican tradition of conservation.”

Though the group claims to be conservation-minded, its stance on environmental issues would make most greenies cringe. The organization supports issues like drilling for oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, the Bush administration’s opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, and loosening Clean Air Act regulations to allow power companies and other industries to operate without installing pollution controls. CREA is backed, in part, by chemical and mining industries. The group isn’t shy about bashing more liberal environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. CREA’s website refers to the Sierra Club as an “Eco-Hypocrite,” even though Doug Wheeler, an honorary board member of CREA, is the former executive director of Sierra Club.

Head Honchos: Founders of the group include current president Italia Federici, former secretary of the interior Gale Norton, and Grover Norquist, the leader of Americans for Tax Reform, another non-profit linked to the Abramoff scandal. Federici is a longtime pal of Gale Norton, and even helped with her Senate bid in 1996. The report asserts that Federici used her contacts in the Department of the Interior (including Deputy Secretary Steven Griles) to assist Abramoff with lobbying in exchange for donations to CREA.

Involvement with Abramoff: According to the report, Federici accepted nearly $500,000 from various Indian tribes, who were Abramoff’s clients. Based on recovered e-mail exchanges, the Committee believes Federici aided Abramoff with lobbying for the tribes, particularly where tribal gaming was concerned, through arranging meetings and speaking with her connections at the Department of the Interior. The report also says that CREA hosted events at no cost to the organization at Signatures, Abramoff’s restaurant in D.C.

The report includes e-mails between Abramoff, his colleagues and clients, and Federici. “I hate to bother you with this right now, but I was hoping to ask about a possible donation to CREA,” Federici said in an e-mail to Abramoff on January 9, 2003. “I thought I’d see if there was any way you could help us reach out to some of your folks who were so generous last year?”

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